Capsule Stage Reviews: June 5, 2014

 BAT BOY: the Musical A made-up tabloid article about a boy who grew up living in a cave inspired this musical, about a mutant half-boy/half-bat. It has an embeddded element of high camp, and has gained a cult following, winning the Lucille Lortel award in 2001 as Best Off-Broadway musical. Colton Berry's performance as Bat Boy is serious, nuanced and highly intelligent, but elsewhere onstage, the ensemble cast is busily engaged in cross-dressing, and wearing hillbilly costumes and bad wigs. The result is Hamlet meets Hee Haw. The play is set in Hope Falls, West Virginia, population 26 hotheaded rednecks. Bat Boy is intended to be repellent but likable. Berry, in a body stocking, shaved head, fangs and Mr. Spock ears, with eye makeup to suggest the undead, manages repellent, but seems more alien, a Puck from some dystopian world, than half-human — endearing escapes him. There are several surprises after Bat Boy is discovered in a cave and is raised by veterinarian Dr. Thomas Parker (Kyle Ezer), his wife Meredith (Crystyl Swanson) and his daughter, Shelley (Tori Shoemaker). Bat Boy is treated kindly by Meredith and Shelley, although Dr. Parker is hostile. Melodrama sweeps in at the end, though knives are wielded, guns drawn and hypodermic needles brandished throughout. Swanson and Shoemaker are convincing as mother Meredith and daughter Shelley — both are attractive and amiable. Ezer is a bit wooden as Dr. Parker. The pop-rock music and lyrics are by Laurence O'Keefe. The music is involving, and the lyrics are literate and witty and deepen characterizations and narrative. Though flawed, this ambitious undertaking delivers dramatic highlights, adroit humor, and a score and lyrics to be cherished. Through June 7. Presented by Bayou City Theatrics at its new venue, The Kaleidoscope, 705 Main (enter around the corner under the Capitol marquee), — JJT

The Beaux' Stratagem Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig has completed an adaptation, begun by Thornton Wilder in 1939, of The Beaux' Stratagem, a 1707 Restoration comedy by George Farquhar. Two young bucks have spent their available funds on riotous living, and leave London to improve their fortunes by courting wealthy women. One is disguised as a lord, the other as his footman, to suggest affluence — they switch roles in each township. The main settings are a country inn and the lavish estate of Lady Bountiful, housing two attractive women. There is some good news. The costumes designed by Amber Stepanik are elaborate and beautiful. There's an extended dueling scene that's amusingly choreographed by Johnny Ringo. Patrick Barton plays a drunken upper-class wastrel with captivating joy. Sarah McQueen provides an interesting, spunky take on his unhappy wife, and Cora Hemphill adds youthful allure to wealthy heiress Dorinda. Justin Finch plays Jack Archer, the rake serving as footman, coming within shouting distance of a gifted performance. His companion in amorous swindling is Tom Aimwell (Josh Clark), who speaks in an arch, affected manner, whines with petulance, and as a pompous prig seems an unlikely candidate to enchant a lady. The work is directed by Lisa Garza, who has permitted actors to wander far off the reservation. Matt Hudson plays Gloss, a highwayman and also a chaplain, but wears too much eye makeup and marches downstage to orate. Adrian Collinson plays Boniface, a scoundrel innkeeper, but we see no conniving duplicity, and Collinson's slow delivery in the opening scenes launches the comedy with a fizzle, though the pace gets better in Act Two. HFAC provides a lavish, well-costumed production and finds many of the laughs, but misses the boat with some less than ideal acting choices. Through June 15. Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Road, 281-685-6374. — JJT

Middletown There's the miracle of birth, there's the mystery of death and then there's everything else in between. No contemporary playwright writes with more passion, theatricality and comedy about the "in between" than Will Eno (Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Flu Season, The Realistic Joneses). In a thoroughly illuminating production from Catastrophic Theatre, Eno's distinctively original off-Broadway prize-winner from 2010 is deliciously shaded with humor and pathos, sadness and awe, and the sublime ordinariness of everyday life. Trying to make sense out of it is the hard part for his cast of average Joes. "Everything is as everything seems," relates the gruff Cop (Rutherford Cravens), talking directly to us, who seconds later blurts out, "My life is a mystery to me." Nothing is remotely like what it seems. In Eno's little corner of the world called Middletown, no one is truly ordinary or predictable. No one's truly happy, either. In an exceedingly postmodern riff on Thornton Wilder's classic Our Town, Eno's world is bleakly comic. Behold the loopy Mechanic (the plush Kyle Sturdivant, who also directs the play with a ripe, sure hand). Somewhat the play's conscience, he's a peeping Tom and a town drunk who rifles through bags of medical waste in hopes of finding something to dull his pain. He's never been able to live up to expectations. As he confesses with a knowledge misted in alcohol, "I'm nothing" Some townspeople are so lonely and lost, the only way out is a slash to the wrist. That would be John (Kevin Lusignolo), the town's handyman. Lanky and odd, he seems the most alone of them all. He forges a tentative alliance with married Mary (Patricia Duran, who adeptly juggles radiant and morose), who has recently moved into town with her husband, who's away on business and never there when she needs him. As sunny, obtuse Librarian (Lyndsay Sweeney) observes with peppy frankness when asked by Mary for a library card, "Good for you, dear. I think a lot of people figure, 'Why bother; I'm just going to die anyway.'" Even disconnects can be painfully funny. The scene with the most wonder doesn't even occur in Middletown but in outer space. It's a lovely bit of theater fairy dust. The town's most famous resident, the Astronaut (Greg Dean), is orbiting in his space capsule. Lit as if from the glow of the instrument panel, he muses to Houston command central about what he sees. Simple and affecting, he describes the earth and the mystery withal. "It doesn't look lonely up here," he says wistfully. "How'd we get so lucky?" Eno's strange, skewed beauties are made visible by mighty superlative dreamwork from scenic designer Ryan McGettigan, painterly lighting from Dustin Tannahill and mysterious sound design from Chris Bakos. There's a touch of genius in the cheery '50s TV theme music used to bridge the scenes. It sounds innocuous, comforting and then rather terrifying. It's a complete picture over at Catastrophic — a priceless Eno, delivered with an invigorating blast of powerhouse theater. Through June 14. 1119 East Freeway, 713-522-2723. — DLG

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